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Jul 29, 2012 4:05 PM by Kevin Liptak - CNN

Senators spar over fiscal cliff

Two senators said Sunday the impending 'fiscal cliff' that would automatically slash billions from the U.S. Department of Defense needed to be avoided, but offered different timetables for resolving the problem.

The so-called "sequester," which would force the Pentagon to cut $500 billion from its budgets over the next decade, came about after congressional negotiators failed to agree on a deficit-reduction plan last fall. Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, one of 74 senators to vote for the measure that included the automatic cuts last August, said Sunday he didn't expect any action to take place on staving off the cuts ahead of November's election.

"Let me be honest with you, in the next 100 days before the election, the political environment is not one for compromise and negotiation, but if we are prepared the day after the election to move forward with a plan that restores confidence in the economy and the ability of Congress to react to it, it is going to be a positive thing for us, and I think that we can do it," Durbin told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley on "State of the Union."

Durbin said Republicans blasting the upcoming automatic cuts were forgetting that they backed the measure last year.

"There is a case of Republican amnesia on the floor of the Senate," Durbin, who represents Illinois, said. "We have the Republican Senate leaders coming to the floor and blasting sequestration that they voted for."

His own vote for the measure, Durbin said, was based in a fear of a potential government shutdown that Republicans were threatening as an alternative.

"The tea parties and their followers in the Senate said they were prepared to shut down the economy in America and default for the first time and instead we came up with a bipartisan approach that was brokered with the Republican leaders and the president," Durbin said.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican who voted against the automatic cuts last year, said leadership was required from President Barack Obama to prevent the sequester from going into effect. Unlike Durbin, she said a solution could be reached before the November election.

"It makes me sick that some in Washington and particularly some of the Senate Democrats and even the president, unfortunately, want to use our military as a bargaining chip," Ayotte said on "State of the Union."

Ayotte continued, "I am willing to sit down with members on both sides of the aisle and resolve it before the election, because if we wait until after the election, it is not just the national security, as Secretary Panetta said we would be shooting ourselves in the head, and undermining our national security, but in terms of the industrial base with nearly 1 million jobs."

The onus is on the White House and Obama to lead negotiations on a deal, Ayotte said.

"Here he is talking about giving a speech to the military, and why isn't he right now at the table with members of both sides of the aisle resolving this? He could lead this effort and he has been AWOL on this. I'm calling on him to do this," Ayotte said.

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